Economic and Racial Justice Converge

** Robin's Book Report #73
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein
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Agenda
-Letter From Me: Minneapolis Sancutary, New Patreon
-The Economic Situation: Budget Battles and Police Abolition coverge
-Reading List: Kierkegaard and Civil Unrest

***What have you been reading? I'm curious to know, so send me an email!***

Letter From Me:

A friend in Minneapolis is working at the ad hoc shelter for people, many of whom are part of the surrounding Indigenous community. You can donate money here:


https://www.gofundme.com/f/sanctuaryhotel/thankyou/share


My new Patreon


I’ve started a Patreon to fund this newsletter (https://www.patreon.com/user?u=18720283&fan_landing=true) and my writing, which I am excited about! I'm doing it for a number of reasons, all of which basically allow me more freedom to write and create things that readers have been asking for. The first is that I spend approximately three to four work days a month on the letter. I love writing the newsletter but I often find myself deciding whether to spend time on the newsletter or spend more time on my paid work (which pays very little). Having some income from the letter makes this an easy decision. (The newsletter will remain free to access.)


The second reason is because I have been making some art work recently, and I wanted to share it. The prints are digital archival inkjet prints based on the Federal Reserve’s diagrams made in 2011 to explain the shadow banking system. The diagrams are totally baffling from an informational perspective, but engrossing as an art object. So, as a subscriber of $9/month or more, you will get one of these prints. Depending on the popularity, I think I will do one print per year. This means you’ll be spending $108/year for an artwork by me, which is a good deal.


The third is that I don’t want to do advertising. This means that subscriptions are a little more expensive than a normal magazine or newspaper, but all the money goes to me and I will use it for the newsletter. I don’t expect everyone to contribute right away, and in fact I like that the newsletter is free and accessible to most people. But I think longtime readers and friends will find that it is money well spent.


Right now I have three tiers, $5, $9, and $21/month. At all levels, you will get a couple bonus essays per year, exploring some ridiculous element of our economic arrangement. At $9/month, you’ll get the shadow banking print. At $21/month you’ll get the print and be considered a Publisher of the newsletter listed at the bottom of every letter.


I am open to different rewards and different levels. Would anyone be interested in a phone call, where you could ask questions about the economic situation? I’d love to do this. Would you be interested in donating, but at a lower amount? Please let me know. If you have experience as a patron of other projects, please drop me a line as well.

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The Economic Situation

Economic Situation


-The economic rescue package worsens wealth inequality


** Reports (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/business/tax-breaks-wealthy-virus.html)
show that the recovery bills remove restrictions on many tax deductions that were put in place to constrain the cost of the 2017 tax cut, such as limits on the amount of debt payments corporations can deduct and in which year. “Many of the tax benefits in the stimulus are ‘just shoveling money to rich people,’ said Victor Fleischer, a tax law professor at the University of California, Irvine.”


-Budget battles and police abolition converge


The civil unrest in response to police brutality has been amplified by many things, but one factor is the economic crisis and the fact that state and city budgets are due imminently. Budgets are always a political minefield, and this moment reveals how consequential they are and how budgets have contributed to the United States failure to deliver racial justice. I find it heartening that the rallying call of the protests is to defund the police, which isn't a vague, quixotic political project, but a specific economic demand. And defunding is a smart demand: even if policing wasn’t a tool to oppress black and brown people, it is a huge waste of resources. ** Police budgets have exploded in the past forty years (https://sirota.substack.com/p/spending-on-police-is-out-of-control)
for no good reason––population growth and crime is down––while social services (or really everything else) have lost funding.


In NYC, the mayor’s proposed budget, before the murder of George Floyd, was to cut $641 million from the Department of Education and only $24 million from the police budget, which relatively speaking, means the DoE will lose about 27 times more funding, ** according to Gothamist (https://gothamist.com/news/coronavirus-blows-6-billion-hole-nycs-budget)
. A group calling for budget justice noted that, “New York City is currently spending more on policing than on health, homeless services, youth development, and workforce development combined.” The NYPD’s budget is around $6 billion dollars, and a more aggressive cut of $1 billion will only take the police back to their budget levels of 2014.


In Los Angeles, the mayor Eric Garcetti isn’t even bothering with cuts. He proposed giving the department an extra $47 million for overtime, even when ** 55 percent of people in the L.A. area are unemployed (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-17/usc-coronavirus-survey)
. As ** reported in the Intercept (https://theintercept.com/2020/05/22/la-budget-nyc-police/)
, that increase is, “despite a raging housing crisis, and a police department that’s been plagued by scandal after scandal.”


Defunding the police has become the slogan of protest because the alternatives (rigorous reforms) haven’t worked. As Brooklyn College Professor of Sociology Alex Vitale said in ** an interview (https://www.thenation.com/article/society/alex-vitale-defund-police-interview/)
, “After six years of attempted police reforms, we have nothing to show for it. Even if some of these reforms were capable of working in theory, police leaders refuse to properly implement them. The only leverage that remains is to starve the beast.” Defunding is less radical than most people think; it may be the only option if cities and states hope to have enough money to provide basic services to their citizens, and, more importantly, to stop the violent control of their black and brown constituents.


But how did budgets have get so lopsided, with scant funding for mental health services, child care, senior care, homelessness, and drug treatment. Why has a progressive city like Minneapolis, defunded these initiatives while plowing millions into the police? I’m sad to say that the only real answer is the implicit racism of our society. Homelessness services, drug addiction counselling, and other social welfare services are programs that overwhelmingly help poor, black, and brown communities


From my perspective, this problem originates in the failure to deliver on the promises of the civil rights movement and legislation that resulted in mid 1960s. In ** this enlightening essay (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/opinion/george-floyd-protests-1960s.html)
, Dr. Elizabeth Hinton writes the history of the War on Poverty programs including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. This program “empowered ordinary citizens to develop their own solutions to cure and prevent the system of racial inequality, with support from the federal government.” The government gave money directly to poor communities and let them determine how they wanted to develop. This isn’t reparations for slavery and oppression, but it leans in that direction. (One example: on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a federal program “supported residents in protesting the New York City’s police department, department of welfare and public school administrators with the Mobilization for Youth Program.”)


However, the programs that came out of the Economic Opportunity Act were abandoned by LBJ and then the Nixon administration. The War on Poverty gave way to the War on Crime. Instead of a robust welfare state, the government invested heavily instead in mass incarceration. Both were solutions to mass poverty, and both were expensive. The rise of policing came from the idea that poor, black, and brown communities could not be trusted to direct and care for themselves. So instead of providing social services, our society just decided to repress them with an overfunded, often explicitly racist, paramilitary outfit. A blunt solution for a society either unready or unwilling to deliver civil rights to all.


The uprisings of the late 1960s were used as an excuse to bring in the police, even though they were evidence of a need for more social spending. “The rebellions of the nineteen-sixties and the enormous social spending intended to bring them under control,” w** rites Keeanga-Yahmata Taylor in the New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-do-we-change-america)
, “were wielded by the right to generate a backlash against the expanded welfare state. Political conservatives argued that the market, not government intervention, could create efficiencies and innovation in the delivery of public services.” We are now living the result of that experiment.


As Sarah Jones ** writes in New York Magazine (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/killing-of-george-floyd-shows-our-over-reliance-on-police.html)
, we ask the police to do too much. They are the only people that can respond to domestic abuse, mental health problems, drug overdoses, minor traffic violations, and a whole host of other issues that they are neither qualified nor excited to deal with. One social worker I know, who used to work for the Special Victims Unit, tells me the police loathe responding to domestic abuse calls. Defunding is about shuffling resources to the agencies and groups better suited to the task.


But what I am trying to highlight is that dealing with racism and poverty––the fraternal twins of American history––requires a lot of resources either way. If we hope to ameliorate them, we need to direct money and resources directly to struggling communities so that they can make themselves safe and prosperous. Policing is antithetical to this. They will not make any progress with police departments prowling their communities, exacting the white overclasses' vision of justice. That is to say that banning chokeholds does nothing to advance the call for civil rights, and I am terrified by what Taylor calls the “palpable poverty of intellect, a lack of imagination, and a banality of ideas pervading mainstream politics today.” The Democratic Party's embarrassingly tame, ineffectual proposals on police reform do not diverge much from the proposal they made after Ferguson. More task forces, more training, more body cameras, and ultimately, more money being invested in police. It's the wrong way
to go.


But mainstream Democrats have almost no good ideas about how to deal with mass economic oppression and coercion either, and that's not a coincidence. The two are connected. Replacing police departments with legions of social workers, drug counselors, and affordable homes for poor people would go a long way to make up for hundreds of years of violence and neglect. But it would require massive reinvestment, action, and imagination. If we piddle around the edges, ** encourage police to shoot criminals in the legs (https://twitter.com/niktaylorde/status/1267513985223602176?lang=en)
, and allow states to continuously to blow up their budgets with police department's wasteful, violent, racist-asses, we will just wallow in the deleterious status quo.


- Let them sell bonds


In a related matter, the New York Times’ conservative side came roaring to the fore to oppose New York City’s suggestion that they might sell bonds to raise money for their budget. Not only did their ** Editorial board scream a warning (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/07/opinion/new-york-city-budget.html)
but their** Metro Desk did as well (https://nyti.ms/2ZUoaCu)
. Instead of allowing the city to sell bonds, they want de Blasio to gut public sector workers’ “exceedingly generous health benefits.” As Corey Robin wrote on Twitter, he’d like to see what health benefits the Editorial Board has.


From my vantage point, this is class warfare. Cuomo and the Editorial Board would rather let the city rot than allow it to issue bonds. And by the way, NYT's got the history completely wrong: borrowing didn't lead to ruin, it was financiers who held the city financially hostage who did, a history Kim Phillips-Fein recounts in her book Fear City. The financial meltdown in New York occurred because deindustrialization decimated the tax base and financial capital went on strike, withholding bond sales until the city capitulated to remaking the society in their image. It was an image with a greatly diminished and austere public sector.


Selling bonds might be risky, but it is a way to use public debt to spread the financial burden out over a longer, more manageable time frame, instead of concentrating it on today.

Reading list

** The Housing Vultures        (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/06/11/homewreckers-housing-vultures/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR%20Housing%20vultures&utm_content=NYR%20Housing%20vultures+CID_726a4ecfe53514f9aed80e98cd57e4e9&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=investors%20who%20exploited%20the%202008%20financial%20crisis)

by Francesca Mari (The New York Review of Books)


If you read and enjoyed Mari’s ** excellent story in the New York Times Magazine (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/04/magazine/wall-street-landlords.html)
about how private equity firms took over the American housing market, this article is an important follow-up. She covers how the federal government after 2008 failed to protect homeowners and in some cases helped private equity firms buy-out huge swathes of houses that they then rented back to the homeowners at exorbitant rates. “The Obama administration,” she writes, “facilitated the transfer of wealth from homeowners to private equity firms.” She damningly continues, that their “response to the foreclosure crisis was [their] greatest failing.”


** Difficulties Everywhere (https://harpers.org/archive/2020/05/difficulties-everywhere-soren-kierkegaard-philosopher-of-the-heart-clare-carlisle/)

Can Kierkegaard tell us how to live?

By Christopher Beha (Harpers)


I can’t say I understand Kierkegaard entirely, but Beha’s analysis has me thinking about the benefits of anxiety. Especially in the context of civil unrest, many people I know are experiencing a deep anxiety about what they should be doing to change society or how they can best contribute. Kierkegaard, in Fear and Trembling, talks about Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac as a story of someone taking an action with no knowledge of the benevolent result. I’ve often thought the same way about the story Job, where Job keeps his faith in the face of calamity without the benefit of knowing God exists at all. I find this is to be a useful guide. What actions do you take when you can’t be certain of their result or if no one is watching? If we’re honest with ourselves, we can’t know for sure that any action will change the world or even make us a good person.


Right now, everyone is wondering if they should be protesting, or donating money, or posting on social media, but the real question they seem to be asking is, How do societies change? The unanswerability of that question is the fire that fuels the whistling kettle of anxiety. None of those three things is the singular answer. Social media is definitely less consequential than people think. Protests have a function, but are not an end in themselves. Money is great, but doesn't address public political problems. We don’t know how societies change, but it is good to be worried about it.

** Comrades (https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/vivian-gornick-jodi-dean-american-communism-comrades-book-review/)

The inner life of American communism.

By Corey Robin (The Nation)


Robin considers two books about American Communism and I enjoyed his conclusion:


“Today’s left is more hesitant, for reasons good and bad, about state power....this hesitation has liberated the left from the need to reconcile freedom and constraint. But it has also left it without power.”

What limits will the left press for if it ever gains power? Will it fall back on policing to maintain order? What behavior is beyond the pale?


** Can America’s Middle Class Be Saved from a New Depression? (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/26/magazine/coronavirus-milwaukee-unemployment-jobs.html?auth=login-email&login=email)

As the pandemic guts the livelihoods of formerly stable families, the federal government seems unwilling to act on the necessary scale.

By Matthew Desmond (New York Times Magazine)


A fabulous article about Milwaukee and a sketch of the exact problems with the government’s inability to help the American middle class.


“If the United States is caught flat-footed in times like these, it is because we left the New Deal unfinished and neglected to protect the security of the American people.“


“** The Cats of Hells Kitchen (http://hatchingcatnyc.com/2020/06/10/life-hells-kitchen-cat/)
”

By Peggy Gaven (The Hatching Cat: True and Unusual Animal Tales of Old New York)


This blog reproduces a 1907 New York Sun article about the treacherous life of the cats of Hells Kitchen (with pictures):


“A Hell’s Kitchen cat is born where no boy can find it and where no man can crush out its life. Nor must the lean mother forget that there are dogs and larger cats to worry the life out of her young. Away back in the darkness under some tenement or in the loft of a ramshackle barn is the nursery. “

...

“For those that survive the hard months of youth there is one pleasure and one alone. That is the midnight gathering. When all the roaring men and women have gone to their burrows up and down the length of the darkened streets, when the last piano tinkle is stilled and the midnight squad have tramped away from the police station, then come the cats of Hell’s Kitchen to mingle in sweet intercourse.”
Thanks for reading!

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